The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

so thanks for one of the blokes who’s done the best at keeping me alive for the longest, I’ve read an AMAZING article about how AA is not the be-all-end-all cure for alcoholism. it’s rather long, so here are some quotes that are relevant to me. but really, the whole damn thing is great and worth a read.

and while reviewing my highlights, note that I’m not knocking AA. it’s a great program that has helped many people (some of whom I even know) get control of their lives again. but what gets me is that 1] it’s too religious/faoth-based, and 2] it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

And according to AA doctrine, the failure was his alone. When the 12 steps don’t work for someone like J.G., Alcoholics Anonymous says that person must be deeply flawed. The Big Book, AA’s bible, states: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.”  J.G.’s despair was only heightened by his seeming lack of options. “Every person I spoke with told me there was no other way,” he says.

AA truisms have so infiltrated our culture that many people believe heavy drinkers cannot recover before they “hit bottom.” Researchers I’ve talked with say that’s akin to offering antidepressants only to those who have attempted suicide, or prescribing insulin only after a patient has lapsed into a diabetic coma. “You might as well tell a guy who weighs 250 pounds and has untreated hypertension and cholesterol of 300, ‘Don’t exercise, keep eating fast food, and we’ll give you a triple bypass when you have a heart attack,’ ” Mark Willenbring, a psychiatrist in St. Paul and a former director of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told me. He threw up his hands. “Absurd.”

The problem is that nothing about the 12-step approach draws on modern science: not the character building, not the tough love, not even the standard 28-day rehab stay.
Marvin D. Seppala, the chief medical officer at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minnesota, one of the oldest inpatient rehab facilities in the country, described for me how 28 days became the norm: “In 1949, the founders found that it took about a week to get detoxed, another week to come around so [the patients] knew what they were up to, and after a couple of weeks they were doing well, and stable. That’s how it turned out to be 28 days. There’s no magic in it.”

As the rehab industry began expanding in the 1970s, its profit motives dovetailed nicely with AA’s view that counseling could be delivered by people who had themselves struggled with addiction, rather than by highly trained (and highly paid) doctors and mental-health professionals. No other area of medicine or counseling makes such allowances.

In his treatment, Willenbring uses a mix of behavioral approaches and medication. Moderate drinking is not a possibility for every patient, and he weighs many factors when deciding whether to recommend lifelong abstinence. He is unlikely to consider moderation as a goal for patients with severe alcohol-use disorder.

In the 1970s, the couple conducted a study with a group of 20 patients in Southern California who had been diagnosed with alcohol dependence. Over the course of 17 sessions, they taught the patients how to identify their triggers, how to refuse drinks, and other strategies to help them drink safely. In a follow-up study two years later, the patients had fewer days of heavy drinking, and more days of no drinking, than did a group of 20 alcohol-dependent patients who were told to abstain from drinking entirely.


6 thoughts on “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

    • the term “bottom” or reference to “hitting the bottom” litters the whole damn book. and really, most of the personal/success stories are about people who got to their own bottom.

      and I think the quote that most people refer to in this regard is actually from Step One: “The answer is that few people will sincerely try to practice the A.A. program unless they have hit bottom.”

      it later continues as follows: “Why all this insistence that every A.A. must hit bottom first? The answer is that few people will sincerely try to practice the A.A. program unless they have hit bottom. For practicing A.A.’s remaining eleven Steps means the adoption of attitudes and actions that almost no alcoholic who is still drinking can dream of taking. Who wishes to be rigorously honest and tolerant? Who wants to confess his faults to another and make restitution for harm done? Who cares anything about a Higher Power, let alone medi-
      tation and prayer? Who wants to sacrifice time and energy in trying to carry A.A.’s message to the next sufferer? No, the average alcoholic, self-centered in the extreme, doesn’t care for this prospect—unless he has to do these things in
      order to stay alive himself.”

      with this excerpt, you can see how it ties in with the success stories.

      chapter four in the Big Book is titled “We Agnostics”. the writers seemed to think they were writing about how AA would work for anyone. however, the chapter is actually very condescending and despicable. the tone of the whole book is basically “improve yourself by the power of and faith in God”. Step Two states that “deep and effective spiritual experiences” are required to recover because “the central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.”

      so on to the “We Agnostics” chapter, here’s the first fucking paragraph: “In the preceding chapters you have learned something of alcoholism. We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic. If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.”

      the chapter continues on to state that “about half [of the] original fellowship were of exactly that type”, but they “had to face the fact that [they] must find a spiritual basis of life-or else”.

      though as the writers have done many other places in the Big Book, they covered their asses: “When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you.”


    • for some there it. I, for example, love the taste of beer and wine. so I could see myself drinking non-alcoholic beer.

      moreover, being able to toast a single glass of wine at a nice dinner party would aid in a sense of inclusion with the group.

      I strongly believe it’s a “to each his own” case.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. “A meticulous analysis of treatments, published more than a decade ago in The Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches but still considered one of the most comprehensive comparisons, ranks AA 38th out of 48 methods.”


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